Archive for March, 2008
Today at school, I had much more than regular Spanish lessons.
It started when one of my teachers told me that today was very likely his last day. He had taken a test that all teachers who work in public schools are required to take. He has been working in Machu Picchu Spanish School for over 5 years. He said the pay was not good, he had never once gotten a raise, he had no health insurance, and in 5 years, he had had a total of 4 weeks vacation. Keep in mind, this is the school´s head teacher. He is excellent and very fun. His name is Saul by the way. He said he was very frustrated by the director, Rosana (with whom I am living) because for years he had talked to students and made suggestions to her as to how the school could improve, but not once had any changes been made. In past years, teachers had tried to take students out on excursions and out to small villages around Cusco, but she would make them pay for it themselves. He said she is a very good person and very fun and nice etc, but not the best administrator. She is missing out on a lot of opportunities. I wouldn´t want you to think this was a bitch session or anything. It was matter of fact and I was questioning etc. Saul is a really neat guy.
Anyway, he passed the test with flying colors. Apparently, only a small number of the takers passed the test at all. This led into our discussion about the school system here, the government, etc, and I learned some fascinating things.
Saul said that he believes change needs to start in the family. I agreed and shared my experiences working in Ferguson-Florissant. I told him we had some of the same endemic problems, just not as bad. He was very interested to hear. Apparently, in the past, the government started allowing teachers to work without having been to university. Therefore the entire education of the children went down, and now 15 years later or so, teachers can´t even pass the national exam. He talked about how dirty and rundown the schools are. How it takes money to get children into the good schools. (Rosana´s children go to some of the best.)
He told me about a hospital in Cusco that is called something like the Hospital for the Poor. That it is, he said. A couple of weeks ago, there was strong rain and some hail and the roof of the hospital nearly collapsed. Water came rushing through and sick people had to run from their beds. Just a couple months ago, three children died from infections they got while in the hospital. A couple of years ago, the wall surrounding the hospital collapsed onto a mother and two children who were just walking by on the sidewalk. Both children died. But nothing has changed. Nothing has been improved.
I learned that the current Peruvian president Alan García Pérez was president once before, beginning in 1985, I think. Back then, the economy went into a tailspin. It was necessary to stand in lines for sugar and rice, and cow milk became impossible to get. I still see absolutely NO milk in the stores.
In my next class with the one teacher I have had the whole time, Dante, I learned even more about politics. Apparently in Peru, it is obligatory to vote. If you are sick or miss voting for any reason, you are required to pay a fine of approximately 75 soles, which is no small amount here, even though it about $25. He explained that the people elected Garcia again because their other option in the last election was a military official. No one wanted a dictatorship. Also, Garcia had decent relations with surrounding countries. No one wanted more war with Bolivia or Ecuador. Even more importantly, Garcia has a good relationship with the US, which is important for Peru´s main export, potatoes. I had NO idea that was their main export. Someone told me they have 2,500 different types of potatoes. People made the excuse that the first time around Garcia was young and inexperienced. He has 4 more years in office.
Even though Saul had said the schools in the country were actually nicer than the old old rundown buildings in the city, Dante said that there are other problems. In the country, a family may have 7 kids, but they won´t all be able to go to school for very long. Usually, the father will force them to work so he doesn´t have to. Instead, he drinks.
I feel like there was even more, but remember this is all in Spanish. It was all just very interesting and I wanted to share.
Eventually, I need to write about Sunday´s excursion to Pisac and last night´s procession, which happens every year on the Monday of holy week. But for now, I need to get to bed early. I am feeling better today, and I think it is because of the medicine. But I am still far from 100% and have almost completely lost my voice. That should make for interesting lessons tomorrow. Blessings!
So, I am more sick. Yesterday was pretty horrible. The sore throat has been joined by pretty bad congestion, runny nose, and a dry cough. All of these things can be symptoms of altitude… or at least exacerbated by it. But I was so miserable. Classes were impossible, especially because I learned hard things in both periods. I have a new and better teacher for my first period. But being so sick it was hard to pay attention, much less wrap my head around the ideas. God knows what either of them will have to say about my homework, which I got in both periods.
Also, at the end of my second period, I found out that neither Seanna or Elsbeth are going to come on the Salkantay Trail with me, so now I am going alone. With how bad I felt, this put me into tears. I don´t want to be alone for 5 days, but then, I thought I would be alone this whole time and have been blessed with their friendship. Also, there will be other people in the group. I am sure it will be okay, and there´s no way I am NOT doing the trail. But I seriously have to get healthy. I´m trying to sleep more and yesterday I found some medicine. Please send up some prayers.
I had some notion when I came down here that I would know for sure what I wanted to do by the time I got back. I would know for sure if I wanted to pursue coming back. I don´t think it is going to be so clear. I´m EXTREMELY glad I didn´t just quit my job and life and come down to volunteer through the school. I have definitely learned that I will need to make solid contact and plans with a volunteer organization. I am not really sure if I would come back to Cusco or not, but having never been to South America at all, this trip has been an invaluable experience. I have learned so so so much. I just don´t think it is going to be as easy as I had hoped.
One of the things that makes it so hard is the short time I am here. I mean, 3 weeks seems like forever when you are trying to get vacation from work and arrange things in your busy American life. But most of the people I have met down here are traveling for months. Volunteering is nearly impossible. All of the places want at least a week of commitment, which is entirely understandable. For some reason, I thought I would just be going to school for 4 hours in the morning and have the rest of the day. I underestimated the studying and large amount of time other things take. Not to mention wanting to sight see. Since I am really not sure I will return to Cusco, there´s no way I am not going to make that a priority. There´s so much to see and experience. If you think about it, the 5-day trail is a huge amount of time out of a 3-week trip. I saw some sights this weekend, but still haven´t made it to the local museums and such. I had to buy a 10-day general tourist pass that will be expired by the time I return from the trail. Also, it´s Holy Week and there are special events going on that I don´t want to miss. And lastly, I am sick, which really puts strain on it all as I was unable to do anything but sleep yesterday afternoon.
So the good comes with bad and ugly. My mother told me to try to have a few goals before I came. It´s easier said than done. This is South America afterall. You can´t plan on that much. And you don´t have any idea what situations you will face.
Basically, I only have volunteered two days, and I am really unsure how I will be able to do much more. I already spoke to the teacher who was helping me, and she said it is probably better to just continue returning to the clinic rather than try to see more places because I can´t commit to any others with the small amount of time I have left. But with me being so sick, I am a little afraid to return, not to mention all the other things I am juggling. (There´s a good chance the kids got me sick.) Learning Spanish while I am here is really important to me as well. One thing I think I have learned is that I need to volunteer more at home. That will show my inner self capabilities as much as volunteering here. People ask me a lot, ”Oh have you volunteered much at home?” and I can only say that I have been to a few soup kitchens and am involved in my church. But lets face it, I get paid to play music there.
So I have learned a ton, seen a ton, and had a ton of fun. But there are some disappointments as well. And much to think about. I need to eat breakfast and get my butt in gear for class.
Good morning all! Bright and early. It´s not even 8 as I begin to write this. Now that you have sprung forward, we are on the same time. Weird huh?
Ok, now to try to sum up what has happened the last few days. School has continued to be good. I have learned a lot of vocab and am still working on my past tense verbs and por versus para. For those who don´t know, those two words both me “for” but have stupdily long list of ways that you use them. The bane of many students. I also learned present subjunctive and Monday I will start to learn past perfect.
Thursday I returned to the Clinica de San Juan de Dios. I had a much better time and focused on seeing the joy in my actions as my friend Tracie suggested. I drew pictures with several children, bounced a ball back and forth for a while with two boys, and then spent a decent amount of time pushing and running wheelchairs around the place. I had one little boy, Jose, really laughing as I sped around corners making car noises. He can´t talk or really point, so I didn´t always know what he wanted and where he wanted to go, but we ended up having a really good time. I was not able to stay for dinner because I had to meet one of my teachers to discuss the Inca Trail. I hope I get a chance to go back there, but Monday another teacher plans to start showing me some other places.
Friday at school we had a short cooking class in the afternoon where they made and we sampled a Peruvian dish. At 6:30, we had a salsa class that was pretty entertaining. Then the girls and I decided we wanted pizza, and 6 of us from the school headed to dinner. Yum. After that we went to a club called the UpTown where they have salsa from 9:30 to 11 or so.
Yesterday, Elsbeth and Seana and I bought out Boletas de Touristas General. These are tickets you must purchase to go to I think 11 different sites in and around the city. Then we headed up to Sacsayhuaman, a very large ruin above the city. On the way, we met some gentlemen offering a horse tour of the sites. This is what we were looking for so we went with it. The horses actually started heading the other way to sites and then came back to Qenqo, which by the way, we foreigners pronounce “Sexy Woman.” My horse was named Paseo and he really liked to eat. We went to Tambomachay, Puca Pucara, and the temple of the moon. Unfortunately, around that time, it started hailing. No seriously. I mean, we have seen a lot of rain here, but HAIL? Holy cow. Our guide rushed the horses and we started trotting through this hail until we got under the cover of trees. Then he told us the horses could go no further and we would have to walk the rest of the way. Shoot. We felt a little cheated, but what could we do. I have to say, until that point we had had and AWESOME day. The warmest so far. It was the first time I was in a tank top. And the countryside was BEAUTIFUL! We were so happy we decided to take the horses. It was truly amazing. Minus how sore my legs and groin will be. And the trotting at the end was a little terrifying. It wasn´t as if we were on flat land… we were going up and down rocky hillsides etc. The hail really didn´t last long, thank goodness, and we walked to Qenqo and then Sacsayhuaman. The latter is up a great hill from the center of town and by the time we got down it we were absolutely EXHAUSTED. We treated ourselves by going to a an American restuarant called Jacks and eating veggie and hamburgers. Unfortunately, I ended up feeling more ill than I already was and went to bed around 9. I have a pretty wicked sore throat and now I am a bit drippy as well. On top of that, I felt like I was going to hurl, but this morning that is gone.
As soon as I finish writing this, I have to call my bank. Despite the fact that I sat down with a banker and made a call with her to the appropriate number and gave them my dates and exactly where I would be, it appears they have frozen my account and frankly, I´m pretty pissed. Wish me luck with that.
Today we are heading into the Sacred Valley. It is an hour bus ride from here to Pisaq which has a HUGE market on Sundays and is an impressive ruin. We will go to 3 or 4 other sites as well. I think it will be a long day, but without so much walking and definitely no horses.
Soon, I will write you about my plans to hike the alternative Inca Trail route called Salkantay. It´s gonna be SWEET!
Love to you all! Pray for my health and bank situation. Blessings!
The welcome dinner last night was fun. We ate at a place called Super Chicken. And guess what? The chicken was super. I was happy that my Spanish was good enough that I was able to joke around with everyone.
After dinner, myself, Elsbeth, one the teachers, three girls from Ireland, and two East Coast USA folks went to a bar owned by the parents of another teacher. Guess what? It was a karaoke bar. Oh yes I did. LOL. I sang Thank You by Dido and Flashdance. It was pretty hilarious. The teacher who came with us taught me a few salsa moves too. We didn´t stay out too late because we had studying and homework to do. When we left the bar though it was POURING. I was so glad that I had my raincoat, which I had previously felt stupid carrying. It was nearly impossible to get a taxi and Elsbeth and I got soaked. We were shocked when a taxi finally picked us up after almost 30 minutes. We gave him an extra sol.
Classes were good today, but I am having a HELLUVA time with por versus para. En serio, es muy dificil. Rosana (my hostess and the school director) told me that even students that come and know a lot more Spanish have a hard time with them. Today I thought the irregular past tense verbs were easier that the damn word “for.”
I had been talking to the teacher who went with us last night about my CD, so he asked me to bring one today. He listened to it over and over for the whole two hours I was in my first period! By the time I came out he told me which numbers he liked best. People were really impressed and asked a lot of questions. It was nice, but you know that I am super self concious about it too.
I took a taxi with Rosana back to the house because another teacher was meeting us there shortly after lunch to take me to a volunteer place. We usually walk. It´s like a mile and we usually go back and forth twice a day. In the car, Rosana told me that her son Diego though I was pretty cool. That I was more animated and fun than the other girls. I was surprised but touched. I think it was the pack of chicle I gave him. (Gum)
Sadith (the teacher) took me a a clinic for severely mentally and physically handicapped children. Most of them were deserted by their families. There were maybe 40 children in the clinic. Most were between the ages of 3 and 10 probably, but there were a few older boys in one room and a few babies as well. The clinic agreed to let me work for two hours to get an idea of what it is like there. I think I am supposed to return tomorrow as well. I played with the children, sang to one little boy in his crib, held a one-year-old with Downs for almost 45 minutes and then helped feed the children dinner. I mostly helped this one boy who had no physical or mental capacity. He couldn´t even bite and chew. It was very difficult and the whole experience shook me up a lot. I hope that I am cut out for volunteer work afterall. I will probably go back there, but Sadith also is going to take me to several other places. She´s very nice and knows more English so she can explain things to me.
After dinner tonight, I spent about 20 minutes talking to Rosa, the girl who works here, and then Rosana and her children sat at the table and I spoke to them for almost an hour! The other girls had gone out for Indian food. It was pretty cool. Rosana told her kids about my CD and I gave them a copy. Luc was so excited she ran and got her notebook for me to sign. Shucks. If only I was as famous or even as good as they think I am. LOL.
All right. I have been online FOREVER. And while I have no homework tonight, I need to get some studying in. Blessings!
(I wrote this yesterday, but didn´t have the time or ability to post it until now.)
My second day of classes was SO much better. I got a new teacher for my first period and learned SO much more. I was really proud of the biography I wrote of myself, though I had mistakes, of course. Dante, my second period teacher, and I praticed many past tense verbs and I was happy with how I did. I really think I might learn this stuff! However, it really will take a lot of studying and practice. Tonight my homework is to take a short story (only 3 or 4 paragraphs) that is written in the present tense and rewrite it in the past tense. And then I have several questions to answer in the past tense. I have been taking crazy notes during class, and then bought a second notebook to rewrite my notes in a more clear and logical order. Rewriting helps a lot. I have many verbs I want to conjugate tonight. However, tonight is the welcome dinner at a restaurant for all the students, so it will have to be later. I wanted to get online now because Diego will probably be playing war games on here later. Hmph.
It´s hard to share the bad as well as the good, but here goes. This afternoon the school secretary took me to the Mother Theresa house where there are malnourished children. It was a pretty awful experience for me. I wasn´t able to see anything in the place. They sat Rosa and I on a couch and Rosa and a couple other ladies talked so fast I could barely understand what was going on. I tried to ask questions and won´t get into all the details but I was SOOOO frustrated by the time we left. We got back to the school and Rosa had one of the teachers translate it more clearly for me. Basically, they said for the first time, the place was asking me to offer a gift in order to work there. So they could buy something for their kitchen etc. They wanted to give me a list of their needs and I could gift whatever I thought was good. In addition though, they were strict about when I could come etc. I am not yet sure when I will be doing certain sight seeing things and was not quite ready to commit. I am very reliable so I needed to be sure. Tomorrow another teacher is going to take me to another two sites to check them out.
By the time I left the school this afternoon I was overwhelmed and frustrated. I had to listen to my music, which I haven´t at all since I left St. Louis. So I put on some good techno and later Blue Merle. I walked to the plaza de las armas and spied on people with my camera. Got some good pictures. I absolutely LOVE my camara.
All right. I am off to dinner. Blessings!